Kelly Tornetta ’19 Selected to Receive NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship

Tornetta, a physics and math double major and volleyball player, is only the 18th Mule to earn the $10,000 award in the 55 years of the program.

By: Meghan Kita  Tuesday, March 5, 2019 04:41 PM

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After finishing an especially trying exam in Mathematical Statistics II in mid-February, Kelly Tornetta ’19 walked out of the classroom in Trumbower Hall and checked her phone. Notification after notification awaited her. While her phone had been on silent, she’d been notified via email that she’d won an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. She’d also missed congratulatory messages from Head Volleyball Coach Amanda Krampf, Director of Athletics Lynn Tubman and other members of the campus community who’d been copied on the email.

“It was nice walking out of an exam to that,” Tornetta says.

The NCAA offers 42 $10,000 scholarships each fall, winter and spring—21 for men, 21 for women—for athletes from NCAA member institutions of all sizes. Tornetta is only the 18th Muhlenberg student to earn one of these awards. She hopes to put the money toward pursuing a doctoral degree in mathematics; she’s applied to two doctoral programs and a master’s program.

“I want to stay in school as long as possible,” Tornetta says. “I love learning and I love math. To produce my own thesis and research is very appealing to me, and from there entering the workforce.”

The type of math that interests her most is one you interact with whenever you swipe a credit card or enter sensitive information online: cryptography. She first studied it last spring, when she spent a semester at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“We started off that class breaking codes,” she says. “It had a little bit of a Sherlock-Holmes feel.”

Tornetta took a heavy course load starting as a first-year student to ensure she would be able to join the more than 50 percent of Muhlenberg students who study abroad. She chose New Zealand because of its untouched wilderness and spent her weekends off the grid, hiking in remote areas with friends. The fact that she could study something so interesting to her there was a bonus.

“Right now, there’s a big push for new cryptosystems,” she says. “Any research I do will probably be towards the creation of a cryptosystem. There’s a lot of creativity required when coming up with a new one or trying to break one.”

She cites Associate Professor of Physics Brett Fadem, who introduced her to undergraduate research, and her advisor, Mathematical Sciences Professor Linda McGuire, as key mentors from her time at Muhlenberg.

“Kelly is great fun to work with as she is naturally curious, intellectually quick, insightful and works effectively both on her own and with fellow students,” McGuire says. “She makes balancing the demands of her academic and athletic lives look easy.”

It’s not easy, Tornetta says, but it’s gotten easier over the course of her time here as she’s learned to balance her responsibilities. In addition to her student-athlete responsibilities, she coaches volleyball and works as a learning assistant. “I find myself out of season not knowing what to do with all of my time because of the strict schedule when you’re in season,” she says.

“I’ve had so many opportunities at Muhlenberg I never would have had at another school,” she adds. “Being a double science major and an athlete and being able to go abroad—that doesn’t happen everywhere.”